Sunday, March 30, 2008

Five Quick Stories

People stare at Larry. They do. I mean, he's striking, so why wouldn't they, but still. It happened in New York City, at a restaurant. A man with long hair and these John Lennon glasses stared Larry all the way to his seat. Years ago, we were walking on the street in Provincetown in the middle of the afternoon, and as we passed a bar we heard a bunch of whooping. The men inside had all written big number 10s on their cocktail napkins and held them against the glass. I thought the guys were making fun of us or something, so I smiled and waved. One of them yelled out, "Honey, it's not you. It's him." I found this hilarious. Larry? Not so much. He refused to walk by there ever again.

Last Friday it happened again. We were having lunch with our friend, Jack. At the next table, a woman kept looking at us. She was looking pointedly at us and then leaning across the table to talk excitedly to her companion, who was a man. This happened multiple times. In my narcissism, I thought, "Why is she looking at me? Do I know her?" Then when we stood and walked to the door, her gaze followed Larry. She cut one harshly appraising glance at me, and then back to Larry. Then she leaned down to talk even more intently to her guy friend. At the door, I asked Larry, "What the hell was that?" He seemed unperturbed, but he knew exactly what I was talking about. For the rest of the day I made up reasons, increasingly crazy reasons why someone would do that. It was fun.

THE EXERCISE: Take a tiny incident you've observed and write five quick stories about it. The seed for this can be as small as you like. Once I walked behind two women in Back Bay. They were having a rather intense discussion that I couldn't hear and then one of them said with such vehemence: "I know the Dewey Decimal System like nobody's business!" She was quite angry and defensive about it. Start there. Or someone staring at a stranger in a restaurant. The five quick stories can be five reasons, just a sentence each. Or they can veer off into many detailed paragraphs. The exercise works better if the stories are, or seem to be, about strangers. 

Friday, March 28, 2008

In Memory of Ana

Last fall, the Memoir Project was in East Boston where we had a lively group of seniors talking and writing about their Italian-American heritage. It wasn't unusual for them to lapse into Italian for those few concepts, or foods, that could not be captured or described properly in English.

One woman, Marie, described her work life, something that fascinates me. Women in the 40s who worked have great stories about that world, in part because they worked so much with men. Marie had many jobs, one of which was putting glitter on greeting cards. She talked about putting the glitter on her fingernails out of boredom. This, until she found her true calling as a sales clerk in a department store. She talked about making sales and working with customers. She talked about joking with the other commuters on the way to work, all men, who liked her frank humor and saucy charm. At least, I think that's what the men must have liked best about her. That's what I like best about her even now. 

I also loved Ana, who was 96 last fall. She came to every single class, although most participants have to miss a few because of doctor's appointments and whatnot. Ana was thinking she would have to miss because the doctors were telling her she needed cataract surgery. We balked at that, all of us. "At your age?" We asked. "Is that a good idea?" She wasn't sure, either. She had no truck with doctors, and she hadn't needed them much. She had no hearing aid, no glasses. She had a mouth full of teeth and a full head of hair. And her memory? Fantastic.

Ana talked about her many factory jobs. She worked at several of Boston's candy factories, she worked multiple shifts. At one point in her life, she would work one shift at the Necco factory and then run across town to spend a shift at Schrafts chocolate factory. She remembered which ones were clean and which weren't. She remembered her bosses and she talked fondly about "Irish Mary" who worked next to her on the line and who took the supervisor's abuse with stunning good humor. Ana worked the factories for nearly 50 years. She never married, and lived her whole life in her family home. She talked sadly about her sisters, now in homes or dead. She lived alone and liked coming to class to hear everyone's stories and to tell her own.

My favorite story was about the stock market crash of '29. Ana had been sent by her mother to the bank that October day to clean out their Christmas fund, which had $60 in it. The money was in Ana's mother's name and she had to meet with the bank president to get at the money. He gave it to her, warning her that she shouldn't break the Christmas fund. Within days, the banks had melted down. The panic had taken hold.

I love that story because it meant that the great crash was still in living memory. No longer. Marie called yesterday to say that Ana passed away early this week. I miss her.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Questions part III

Our meeting with the purchasing editor went perfectly, particularly because she started by buying us a big lunch and concluded by marching us into a room with lots of marketing people who had eyes, and questions, only for my co-author. I got to stay mum and take notes, as it should be. He's got to promote the thing afterward. He's going to be answering questions from strangers for years to come. In this context, I'm just another pretty laptop. So, he answered his questions smoothly and with much charm, and everyone was really impressed by him. Bravo! Then we all stood up and 7 people handed us business cards. The online marketing person, the publicity person, the publisher, the associate publisher, the head of the imprint. On and on. One of them turned to me on her way out and said "Great to meet you." I agreed. She said, "You've got a lot of writing to do." I agreed again. And the meeting ended with hugs all around.

Out on the sidewalk, we co-authors scheduled a meeting to get started on the writing part. And he said to me, "Do you think we'll have to come back to New York often?" I thought, "Oh, honey, no." Secretly, I'm wondering if we'll ever see those people again. We'll talk to them, sure, and in a year from now, we'll hear from them plenty. Still, I have friends who've never met editors they've worked with for many years over multiple projects. I've worked with an editor at Worth for four years and I've never once laid eyes on him.  I have friends who've never met their agents in person. I had to say to my co-author, who couldn't be a sweeter guy, and who works in a profession that demands face-to-face encounters, that this is really unusual. Highly unusual. And it speaks to the pressure that's building already.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Last Call for Seafarer

The Sunday matinee was packed. Packed. Who knew? I sat next to a nice couple and chatted them up before it started. Turns out, the guy sitting next to me had read with one of the actors, one of the understudies, for his audition last year. He loved the scene so much that he had asked the other actor if he could keep his copy of the monologue. And the actor said, "No way. I need it." So, here he was at the theater to see the monologue he'd mooned over. He'd been in a bunch of plays himself and had done some movie work. We talked. I said, "You're going to love this." Then I said, "You're not going to be able to take your eyes of Jim Norton. No one can." 

How wrong I was. The acting had changed utterly since I saw the play in January. There was so much more going on in every moment. To call the performances freewheeling would understate matters completely. David Morse's shouting was incoherent on multiple occasions. Unrecognizable as speech. And he lifted the chair over his head to throw it, nearly decapitating the stage left set.  The actors were smirking at each other, menacing each other. Conleth Hill had a strange glint in his eye like he'd gone to crazyland, and was inviting the rest of them to join him. He dragged out bits of business, withheld lines for long beats. When Sean Mahon (most improved player) went off to kick the wall, Ciaran Hinds spent the rest of the scene trying to stop himself from laughing. Unsuccessfully. At intermission, I said to the guy next to me, "I'm afraid that one of those guys might don a toga and shout food fight." The guy said, "Yeah. They're pretty happy with what they're doing up there. " I thought: Are you not hearing me? I fear gunplay is imminent. They've gone quite mad. All of them. 

During the second act, I found myself sitting forward in my seat. I was awed and afraid. No other way to put it. The guy next to me also sat forward. The energy kept escalating and became truly weird. And yet at the moment when Ivan runs in with his glasses, I had the exact same thought as before. "Oh, no. It's almost over." That was the only thing that hadn't changed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Stuart Little

The G-man stays home from school today because it's good Friday. We'll go out to lunch together, I'm sure, to his favorite spaghetti place. He likes the chocolate mousse cake for dessert, which he can eat--big as it is--in about three bites. And he likes to crack himself up about the name. He says he's eating a moose, and then laughs at his own joke. Every time.

Then I hope we'll read together. He will lobby for trips to the playground, if it's not snowing, and for light saber fights. But I love cuddling and reading.

Yesterday, I introduced the kids to Stuart Little, by E.B. White. They really liked it, and didn't balk at the big words, of which there are several.
As a character, Stuart is quite a fussy little guy, and so is the family. The dialog seems stuck in another century, but the stories themselves have real heart. I especially like the one where he goes sailing on a model yacht in Central Park. I've done a radio story on model yachting and he gets it just right, probably because he'd seen it. Back when this book was written, model yachting was a huge cultural phenomenon. Funny thing is that Garret liked the story, or at least listened very hard to it, but then only wanted to hear the one chapter. Then he wanted tickling, racing, sword fights, action. Sammie, who I'm sure didn't understand some of it, wanted to hear the whole book. 

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Questions, part II

We have a meeting in New York on Monday to meet the purchasing agent, in part as further proof that we co-authors exist. This is a version of all the meetings we had scheduled with all of the publishing houses before we settled on one place (or, rather, they settled on us). At this meeting many, many questions will be asked and answered. It's kind of like having a first date after the wedding. Having taught in Chinatown, I know what I'm talking about here. As awkward as it sounds, these things do sometimes work out.

This will be a large meeting, or a series of them in which we talk at length with the editor about the direction of the book, and then we'll meet everyone on the "team." We've been told that it is an "excited team." I suppose we co-authors making the trek to NYC are to be known as the "nervously excited team." Maybe we're all nervous. I'm working away at an expanded outline. And another short outline, too, as an extra security blanket. And I'm packing a list of discarded book titles. We've already been put on notice that our provisional title isn't right. We need to generate a list of alternates on which the marketing people can work further. There is also talk of generating a website/blog for the book-to-be. A lot of issues have to be discussed even though they won't become relevant for months, maybe even a year from now. A book like this can't be just a book, it must be a marketing force. It must be armed with special powers, for which we need to be weaving spells now.

My first question while booking train tickets was this: Is another trip to The Seafarer a possibility? Ticket for one, front and center? One last time before it closes in a little over a week? (Yes, I am that crazy.) Can I see my five thespian boyfriends one more time?

Not only did Larry not laugh at this, he didn't even say no. Instead, he said, "Sure. Why not?"I didn't have to flash him even one bogus reason. Not one painful attempt at a brogue. So, I now have a train ticket that gets me into the city just in time to scurry to the theater for the Sunday matinee. And that leaves time enough after to finish the outline in the hotel before the pre-game co-author confab over dinner at which we can work out the jitters.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The kids are into maps these days. Garret found one in the back seat of my car and now studies it everywhere we go. It's one of those thick, wire-bound tomes and it details the roads in every town in eastern Massachusetts. The edges have tattered over the years and it's sadly out of date. Untold subdivisions are still represented as green fields. Newly widened thoroughfares are still marked as tiny roads. Yet, to Garret, it holds some secrets and he seems to feel that if he studies it long enough, all will be revealed.

Now, Sammie has picked up the habit, as well. She draws maps everywhere. Hers have people in them, and they come with stories, but they are maps all the same. From them, she dictates the directions to grandma's house, to swimming lessons, to the store. On the way to the doctor's office yesterday, she told me how to get there. "First, we go this way," she said and lifted her finger from a sheet of paper on which she'd drawn lots of smiling people to point left out the window. "Now we go straight for a little while, but up and down some hills." She was very serious about the whole thing. Mostly right, too.

This study and interest reminds me of the topographical maps I studied when I was learning to fly. I had to look at them before a cross country flight in order to get an idea of any obstacles I might encounter and at what altitudes. And then I had to find them in the air. I remember flying and looking from the map to the ground. Where's the tower? Where's the highway? Where are the railroad tracks? Where's the little lake shaped like a horseshoe? And finally, where's the runway? You wouldn't think there'd be time for that, but there is. In a little Cessna 152, there's ample time to look at the ground and the map to figure out where you are. In fact, it's the only way to get anywhere.

In writing, maps are called outlines. Unfortunately, this label unfairly robs them of all their sexiness. An outline, or a story map, contains all of a story's signposts, all of the markers you need to pass before you're done. They are the only way I can get anywhere in a story. I write them constantly, sometimes while reporting. In a bowling alley at 2 a.m. I wrote out a crude story outline, just to make sure I'd gathered enough sound. I've written them on old envelopes and on the backs of grocery lists. I've written them while writing a magazine story, just to make sure I'm doing what I think I'm doing. I've written them after I've finished a book chapter, to figure out where I got lost. I've used them to help me think through a short story, even though no fiction writer I've ever met admits to using outlines. And now, I'm doing one for the book, in part to keep the anxiety at bay, in part to figure out what's here and what's not. Actually, I'm doing several. One detailed map for the whole text, then another one with just chapter titles and possible titles. There will probably be a third one with concepts but no anecdotes. 

I just wish mine were as pretty as Sammies, with all her smiling faces.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Other News

A week before I got the final word on the book deal, something else happened in our home. Three Fridays ago, when I was busy exchanging emails about final titles and moving commas around in the book proposal, my husband found out that the big boss at his company would be coming to his office for a meeting. 
I said, "So what?"
Larry said, "I think I'm getting fired." To this, I shook my head. No one is more talented, no one works harder than my husband. 
Larry spent the weekend saying, "I think I'm losing my job on Monday." I don't know how many times I said, forget it, no way. They'd be crazy. 

Someday I really will learn that my husband is always right. He called at 11:30 on Monday and left a message on the answering machine, which I retrieved after Sammie and I got home from her swimming lesson. On it, he said, "Party's over." This was no good. Life with two children and no incomes and no health insurance would devolve quickly. I calculated our savings, our emergency money, our retirement funds. How many months could we spread them across? And then what? That's what I thought about while I dialed his office. 

He told me the story. The big boss brought his flunkie to the office (why do these guys always, always have a sidekick?) under the auspices of having a meeting with the sales office. Larry pulled every favor he had with everyone, until someone a few rungs above him took him into a room and told him the truth. In twenty minutes the big boss would come into Larry's office and tell him that these editorial offices will close. Fifteen people, some in their fifties, some in their early sixties would lose their jobs in a little over a month. 

Let me jump in here with two facts. The first is that this big boss is called "Big Daddy." No one calls him this to his face, but absolutely everyone who works closely with him in the central office, the Mothership, calls him this behind his back. Second, he drives a powder blue Rolls Royce. I know this because I have done some contract work for the Mothership and I was on the phone with one of the editors there who looked out his window on that spring morning and saw this Rolls circling around and said, "I think an NBA player got himself lost in our parking lot." Then after a few minutes he said, "Oh, no, that's just Big Daddy coming to work." True story.

Larry spent the intervening minutes removing pictures of our children from the walls of his office. I have had the habit of emailing him photos of the kids that he would print out and tack up on the walls. Kids on swing sets, kids in highchairs with spaghetti in their hair. Kids clutching inflatable tubes in a lazy blue pool. All these came down. Then he found a cardboard box and put all the personal items from his desktop into it along with the photos. The box he sat by the door of his office. Big Daddy had to walk around it to make his big pronouncement.

I was stunned by Larry's gesture. "Why did you do that?"
"Because you don't get to look at my family while you do this."
My response? "Honey, I've never wanted you more than I do right now."

They were a rough few days that week. We didn't sleep much, and I wasn't overly concerned about the book proposal going out. It was out of my hands and so when the agent called with this offer or that, I was pretty detached. But that Friday, when we had a deal, and a good one, I called Larry and told him. He was thrilled--for me and for us. (I didn't want to write about any of this at the time until I had his okay.)

He just has a few weeks left of work. I'd like him not to rush into another job, any old job. And he can't, anyway. He's spending time meeting final deadlines and funneling job leads to his staff. I don't know how to end this post. I don't know what's going to happen next.

Wait. I do know how to end it. That Friday night, we opened a bottle of champagne. The book deal really did seem like a miracle. I said to Larry, "I'm glad you're not going to be working there anymore." 

"Glad?" he said. "I'm ecstatic."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Telling Tales

The kids are into story telling and play acting these days, each in a different way. Last night Sammie put on a penguin mask, something she'd brought home from an Arctic-themed birthday party months ago. She draped her security blanket around her neck like a cape and leaped off her bed, our bed, Garret's bed. I said, "Are you a magical super penguin?" And she nodded, grinning. I asked if she was saving people from the bad guys and she lit up. What a great idea. Up to that point, being a super hero was just about jumping and wearing cool stuff. 

The G-man, meanwhile, has taken storytelling to heart. While Sammie jumped and jumped, Garret wanted to tell me a story. "Once upon a time, there was a dragon." OK, I said. And what happened next? Um, said Garret. He looked around his room the way kids do when they're thinking, as though the idea is sitting on a shelf or under the bed, like a lost Lego or puzzle piece. Maybe it is. "Once upon a time, there was a dragon, who farted on Mommie's head." Nice. This is how he cracks himself up these days. I said, OK. What then? But the well had dried for him.

That's how I feel. The well is dry. Lots of exciting news, some distressing news lately. Too many events to coordinate. I've veered away from daily writing. My notebook comes with me everywhere, but I don't write in it. And when that happens for even a few days, the cobwebs grow inside me, and I'm afraid to go back to it, afraid of how bad the writing will be when I start again.

Time to get back to it. Today. To ease the path, I can start with someone else's writing exercise. I'll take a cue from What If, which is indispensable in such moments. The exercise is about fairy tales.

THE EXERCISE: Write the phrase "Once upon a time..." and finish the sentence, writing for about ten minutes. Then do it again. Part two is more interesting. Take the first part of one of your two favorite fairly tales and omit the "once upon a time part." Then rewrite those first paragraphs with realistic, modern details added in. The book details all sorts of lessons about narrative distance and the separation between author and narrator that should come from this exercise. Save the learning for another day. Just write.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Names and Faces

So, the phone rang this morning and it was a friend of mine calling from work to say that she found the book deal mentioned in the Globe. It's in the section usually reserved for Tom Brady and Matt Damon sightings. And chefs. All chefs get mentioned in this section of the paper, in bold face. Poor Boston. Our winters are long and we run on a bit of a celebrity deficit. 

(Which is why the doings of suburbanite authors can sometimes sneak in under the radar.) 

My co-author called and said, "I feel like a dancing bear." To which I said, "Honey, you haven't even begun to dance. Wait 'till you're hawking this book at a PTA meeting in Canton." And, p.s., stop dancing. We've got writing to do.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Sale Questions

So, as the euphoria fades, several questions surface about a book that's about to be written. 
The agent has questions; the purchasing editor has questions. I have questions.

My first question is about sending flowers. One of my friends who has sold several books always sends flowers to his agent after a deal. I said to my husband, "Do you think I should do this?" He says, "Flowers? Doesn't she get a commission?" Well, yes. Yet, to me it still sounds like a nice thing to do.

My second question is: When? When does the next thing happen? I remember writing my first magazine story and finding out that it would be slated for an issue six to eight months later. This made the publication date fall in the next calendar year. I thought, "That's too long to wait. My life will be over by then." Very dramatic. Now I know that everything in publishing takes a really long time. Still, I want to know. How long do I have to write? How long until it's published? How long until we get paid? There's no real point in asking any of these questions because no one has the answers, really. It's true.

The editor had questions right away, and these must be answered. We had a phone meeting with her on Monday, in part to prove that we exist, and she made it clear right away that she is smart and passionate about the book. These are new sensations for me. Magazine editors are usually smart. However, their passion about any one article comes and goes. Sometimes it doesn't exist at all. Meeting someone by phone who is all over this project, and who is conversant on every point in the book proposal was just stunning. Or do I mean daunting? It's a totally new level of scrutiny.

Her second questions were: What word length are you thinking about, and how soon can you finish? We had been warned about the second question. She wanted us to say six months. We wanted to say nine months (which is still writing at a high clip). We settled on 7.5 months. OK. Compromise is good. (Plus, embedded in this discussion is her understanding that writers always blow deadlines. When you pick a steep deadline, it allows you to kick the writers down the shame spiral quickly, meaning there is a chance in hell of them meeting the real deadline. I've been an editor. That's the only play on the board.) Also, we will meet this deadline or I'm pretty sure our agent will have us killed. 

Next question. How long? I guessed 40 to 50K words. She said, "That's really short. How about 75K?" And I found myself saying yes out loud, while internally saying "holy, holy sh*t," over and over again. My math may be fuzzy, but I'm thinking that's about 10K words per month of finished copy, or about one feature story per week, every week, between now and November.
As my friend, Jack, would say, "Welcome to the NFL."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fig Ends and Ten Cent Lights

Today in Mattapan, I led the last class of writing prompts for the seniors and then collected their notebooks. Next week the teachers will meet with the coaching staff to assign one senior to each writing coach and we'll begin working with them individually to flesh out their stories and ready them for publication in the next anthology.

In class, I emphasize sharing of stories and today they really talked. One man, Earl, wrote a long essay about being the oldest of fifteen children, and his essay was about how the family got along on his father's pay as a cab driver. His father often pulled what they called "iron" shifts in his cab, meaning he worked 24 hours straight. Earl wrote about one uncle who pawned his watch each Monday morning to get bus fare to work for the week. And then bought it back with his wages on Friday afternoon. He wrote about buying what he called "fig ends" from the bakery. He said that the bakers used to make fig bars, a kind of fig brownie, and then cut off the overcooked edges and then the bakers sold those uneven and burnt edges for five cents a bag. Many people in the class nodded at this, and they debated which place had the best fig ends.

In Earl's essay, he named several of the old bars and nightclubs in Mattapan and Roxbury, and detailed which ones had a dress code and in which ones you could get cut with a razor if you weren't careful. "Nobody had guns," he said. People nodded at that, and one woman in response said, "Oh, do you remember those ten cent lights?" Total silence. She looked around and clapped both hands over her heart. "Oh, I'm dating myself now," she said and laughed. We encouraged her to continue. She explained that at one time, you could buy a glass of beer in most of those establishments for ten cents and they were called Ten Cent Lights. Everybody called them that, she said.  

They detailed many of the usual things that we've heard in all the neighborhoods. They talked about butter and sugar sandwiches. They talked about taking the trolley out to the end and back as a form of entertainment. "It took most of an hour, and only cost five cents," said one woman. She also said that her mother would feed the children before they went to a neighbor's house for dinner, "So that we wouldn't shame her by seeming too hungry." They talked about scooping up new fallen snow and pouring Zarex syrup on it to make a dessert.

Then they surprised me. Someone talked about holding a political rally back in the 70s at which they served the best curried goat. I must have let the shock show on my face, because one of the women scolded me. "Look at your face. Look at the look on your face. You haven't even tried it." That stopped me short. I asked where can you get it? They answered all at once, "Anywhere," they all said. "All up and down Blue Hill Ave." 

Curried goat it is, then. And to serve with it? Carrot juice and rum

Welcome to Boston

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Born Before Plastic

irborn before plastic

The book launch is tonight for this, the first anthology of Grub Street's memoir project. In it, you can read stories from more than 40 senior citizens who took part in free memoir classes in the summer of 2006. The neighborhoods represented include Roxbury, South Boston and the North End, three very different places, and yet the stories have many similar themes. Last year the project moved on to Chinatown, Charlestown and East Boston. (Look for that anthology next year.) It's one of the most challenging and fulfilling projects I've ever been involved in. I teach the classes and Alexis Rizutto, another Grub instructor, heads up the one-on-one coaching that follows. And she edited the book as well.

For more information on the project, check here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Indecent Proposal--final

We have a deal. A book deal. It's incredible. 

More details to follow when I really believe it.

On Wednesday we heard from the agent that the proposal was out and that people seemed excited to read it. The next day she called to say, "I've just received a pre-empt offer of (insert obscenely high sum here), but I think we should turn it down because I think we can do better." 

I said, "OK." What else is there to say? I know nothing of these things.

Six hours later she called and said, "I've just turned down a second pre-empt offer of (insert sum that is 50% higher than aforementioned obscenity)." 

I said, "OK." At that moment, I was herding Sammie from the car to the house and already late to finalize something in Boston on the bowling story and drop off a memoir project book to a reporter and get to class to teach. Perhaps I wasn't listening. 

Next day she called late in the day and offered up a third number, one that can't be categorized, or even contemplated for very long. "I think we should take this one," she said. 

I said, "OK." And then she continued to talk for another five minutes as though she hadn't heard me. She told me that we shouldn't be greedy. I agreed. She told me that anything higher than this would be really hard to earn out and it would make any subsequent book difficult to sell. I agreed. She said there would already be enough pressure on us to make this book really good an successful. I agreed. She said two of the other editors who had read the proposal and liked it had already told her that the book wasn't really worth that second number in the first place. And this third number is, you know, higher. Right, I said. I can see that. 

I'm actually a little scared right now.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Carrot Marmalade

In the Memoir Project this past Wednesday we had another standing room only crowd of folks wanting to tell their stories. Several people couldn't show up and we still ran out of chairs. I don't know what's going on there.

One woman was kind enough to bring two books, each of which contained a recipe for carrot marmalade as Carl had asked for in the first class. One of the books was so old that it referred to them as receipts. It had no copyright information in it at all, but the pages were tattered. It came from Bermuda and contained advertisements for things like sugar and rum. A bottle of rum, according to this book, costs 4/6, or four shillings and sixpence. That's old.

Here's the recipe.

Carrot Marmalade
1 quart of slipped carrots
3 cups of granulated sugar
2 cups water
the juice and rink of 2 lemons

Boil carrots, sugar and water together. Add juice and rink of lemons and boil until tender. Add more water if necessary.

Have You Met My Son, the Writer?

This came home from kindergarten yesterday. The G-man was sent into computer lab with his little kindergarten cohorts and told to work on a story. Stories are big in kindergarten, apparently, along with counting to 100, and blowing your nose instead of picking it.

So, here's what he wrote on the computer. According to his teacher, he's the only one in class who actually told a whole story. The spellings are phonetic, I'll translate in parens when necessary.

onts (once) thair was a kide named garret
he onted (wanted) to mack L (his school name) a mese (mess) 
he had 10'000 gards (guards) 
1 day an asdroayd (asteroid) fell on L
every gard was happy
thee end

That's my boy. Beginning, middle and end. Take that, you nose pickers. Of course, it's slightly dark and destructive in quality, as we've seen in his play at home. His teacher wanted (onted) to talk about it in conference after. But, even she had to admit that it had story structure. And when she read it out in class, she got the number of guards wrong. She said 1,000 guards and the G-man was up out of his seat in a flash. No, no, it's ten thousand.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why it's hard to write on some days

This snippet was captured by my sister-in-law, Julie. And it's just seven seconds of the chaos.

Indecent Proposal 7

Word came in today that the book proposal is in the hands of 21 editors.

Now, we wait.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Searching for Mr. Mahon

Number of minutes spent interviewing Mr. Mahon for the NPR bowling story: 2
Number of minutes spent logging the tape from this interview: 14
Percentage of interesting, bowling-related remarks made by him that are unusable because I stepped all over them, perhaps because the interview took place 3 hours past my bedtime, perhaps because I'd been awake for 36 hours straight, perhaps because I was still flustered from recent encounter with hunky Mr. Flapjack Tits: 33
Minutes spent waffling over the viability of two remaining, unsullied quotes: 10
Differing places the selected quote occupied in the story before a producer looked at it: 7
Number of Irishmen in the entire bowling alley, amongst a field of 120 bowlers: 4
Percentage of Irishmen present who were interviewed, with great interest, by me: 75
Number of times I considered that perhaps the Irish were in danger of being a tad over-represented in the story: 0 
Number of times my husband questioned my pronunciation of Mr. Mahon's last name after the long-buried, genetic, Boston-Irish link to the motherland roused itself inside him, yet again: 1
Times I said to Larry, "He's not going to hear it, anyway:" 3
Times Larry shook his head in response and said, "I'm just saying you'd better check:" 3
Minutes spent frantically scrolling through digital tracks, in vain, to find the interview in a hope against hope that I had, in fact, asked Mr. Mahon to say his name on tape, as any professional would do, if she had half a brain, even if she had just previously spent several minutes in the presence of hunky Mr. Flapjack Tits: 22
Number of times I cursed myself using unprintable language: 11
Frantic emails sent to co-commissioner of bowling league asking if there is any way she might know this guy and/or how to say his name:2
Times I checked email in the two hours before morning edit with producer: 17
Times I checked email after the morning edit while waiting to voice the story: 15
Elapsed time, in minutes, spent mining the electronic landfill known as the Internet collecting irrelevant scraps of information about Mr. Mahon, including his age (41), and his day job (personal trainer) in an effort to discover the correct pronunciation of his name: 123
Mr. Mahon's IMDB listings: 12
Number of his appearances on ER, voice-overs for dragons, and roles in a Sci-Fi channel movies of the week: 1
Appearances on Line of Fire, which I had never heard of: 4
Number of acting coaches who use Mr. Mahon's head shot and enthusiastic endorsement in online brochure copy: 1
Number of gay men's websites that speak of him with lust and admiration: 5 (and counting)
Percent chance that he is, in fact, gay: 35
Number of nude or explicit photos of him on the internet: 0
Minutes spent mentally composing Google searches likely to yield such photos: 3
Time, in minutes, spent wondering how to find any nude photos of any attractive men in order to alleviate anxious boredom: 7
Amount, in dollars, of money personally raised by Mr. Mahon in 2004 to fight Leukemia: 60,456
Elapsed time, in seconds, of self-imposed guilt trip over having hoped, however casually, to glimpse the dinky of a great humanitarian: 52
Percentage of the five-man cast of the Seafarer interviewed by reporters representing various broadcast media, including podcast, during which the reporters stated their names clearly and correctly: 80
Number of times Mr. Mahon was interviewed by said reporters, who might even inadvertently have pronounced his name correctly: 0
Number of times I watched Mr. Mahon's acting demo reel on YouTube, even after I knew it would not teach me how to say his name: 4
Additional minutes spent wondering what sort of parts he would be good for: 12
Time spent setting up a YouTube account so that I could send an email to whoever posted the demo reel, in hopes of getting the pronunciation right:40
Number of attempts to send email: 3
Number of responses: 0
Times I entertained the irrational notion that the person who posted that reel is, in fact, a crazed fan: 17
Times I feared that I was becoming a crazed fan: 3
Number of attempts to convince the show's producer that we could cut this quote and any reference to Mr. Mahon without losing substance: 2
Minutes prior to voicing tracks that I checked email one final time to find a response from bowling league contact that contained the correct pronunciation: 1
Amount of time spent considering that I made a day-long obsession out of a single syllable word, and over the life and career of a total stranger: as little as possible

THE EXERCISE: Make a list. The items on it and the order in which they are listed should tell a story. With any luck, the resulting story is shorter and tighter than the one above (and displays less overt craziness on the part of the writer).